Kiev, February 2014

by Rhodri C. Williams

Here is a video, published today, of protesters with helmets, large metal shields and clubs creeping forward under sustained gunfire in Kiev, a European capital. It is not hard to imagine how that works out, but hit play if you need visual confirmation.

Here is a press statement from the EU Council from almost precisely one year ago welcoming the same country’s European choice and reaffirming the “joint engagement in the political association and economic integration of Ukraine with the European Union on the basis of respect for common values and their effective promotion.”

Something clearly went terribly wrong.

Here is a report on the meeting on the sidelines of the Sochi Olympics between embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and his friend in need Vladimir Putin, at which we now presume the former was instructed by the latter to “wipe [the protesters] out in the shit house.” Here is an outraged reaction by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who invokes a quasi-historical materialist argument in favor of the the inevitability of European integration:

Today, President Yanukovych has blood on his hands. And I am afraid that the path he has now taken will lead to even more suffering and violence. He was the only one who could have prevented the killing – by extending a hand of genuine cooperation to the democratic opposition.

Instead they were shown a fist. People have been shot dead with live ammunition. Peaceful demonstrators. But police officers and others have also been harmed in the violence that broke out. I am afraid that Ukraine is now heading for dark times. The crisis in the country will become deeper and longer. I am deeply concerned.

But the outcome of the violence will be precarious and short-lived. It will die away like a storm on the steppes. What has happened, and is happening, in Ukraine also demonstrates the power of the European dream. A Europe of peace and freedom and cooperation.

And sooner or later, it will triumph in Ukraine too.

Here is a reasonable counter-analysis, asserting that Putin will win this struggle because his interest in its outcome is vital and all-consuming, in comparison to the diffuse and ambiguous interest of the various EU decision-makers. This is the rump Soviet Union’s second Soviet missile crisis, once again staged during an Olympics Games, and vital political interests – if not real national interests – are at stake.

And here is an editorial, pointing out that the goal of EU integration has almost slipped off the radar in what has become a pure revolt against President Yanukovich and the corruption he represents. Which ends by pointing out how the resulting deadlock affects us all:

At stake for the United States is its already prickly relationship with Russia. That has implications for arms control and for American diplomacy on Syria and Iran. Co-operation between America and Russia has slipped badly, but what remains is still a requirement for an orderly world. Thus it is that Ukraine has gone from being a story of trouble in a distant place to being an issue which could profoundly affect all our futures.

Were the rumors of the Cold War’s demise dangerously exaggerated?

6 responses to “Kiev, February 2014

  1. I saw it earlier on. Back to 1945 anybody? Maidan looks like photos of the Red Army taking Berlin…

  2. Or East Berlin in 1953, or Budapest in 1956, or Prague in 1968, or Grozny several miserable times in the 1990s, or Gori in 2008. But to be fair, what is worse, Kissinger in Chile or Shrub in Iraq? I think its time to stop blogging for the evening…

  3. This morning, BBC announces a ‘peace deal’ between regime and protesters, negotiated in all night sessions with EU foreign ministers mediating:

    And a great piece of Guardian reportage conveys the extent to which the chaos was played out at the national level, conveying the urgency of the crisis which has now been at least temporarily defused:

    “While the authorities blocked trains coming to Kiev from the anti-Yanukovych west, protesters in the east lay down on railway tracks to prevent the government transporting military reinforcements to the capital. Crimea, ardently pro-Russian if part of Ukraine, issued threats of secession should the country go into freefall. Reports from the west spoke of protesters ransacking military and police headquarters and seizing weapons, while the security services were said to be shredding documents in scenes that recalled the anti-communist revolutions of 1989 in Romania or East Germany.”

    And while all of this drama continues, the band plays on right next door in Sochi, with thrilling feats of athletic endeavour interspersed with Cossacks horse-whipping punk bands. Perhaps to take the heat off himself, Putin trundled out Medvedev to mutter something patronising about refusing to pay more pocket money to Yanukovich if he allows himself to be used as a doormat by anyone other than the Kremlin. And the Ukrainian team will not be allowed to wear black armbands because that would be political.

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